Building Resilience and Its Effect On Performance
In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, the ability to adapt and bounce back from setbacks is essential. This is where building resilience comes in. Resilience is the capacity to cope with stress, adversity, and change in a positive way and it’s becoming increasingly important in the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of the need for building resilience, as employees have had to navigate the many new challenges and uncertainty. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of resilience in the workplace, the benefits it can bring to both employees and organizations, and strategies for building resilience in employees.
What is resilience and why is it important?
Psychological resilience is considered to be the process by which individuals demonstrate more positive outcomes than would or could be expected, given the nature of the adversity experienced.1 At its core, resilience involves positive emotions and adaptive behaviors that help individuals maintain their performance, stay motivated and manage stress. It is important to acknowledge that resilience is not an innate trait, but rather an acquired skill, gained through experience and conscious effort. Therefore, it is trainable. With enough practice anyone can learn and develop it. Think of it as building muscle. It takes time, conscious effort, willpower and it grows through resistance.
It is important to realize that being resilient doesn’t mean that a person will not experience difficulties or distress at some point in their lives again. In fact, becoming more resilient will probably involve encountering and overcoming challenges and moments of emotional distress. However, it does mean that they are better equipped to bounce back from the setbacks, and grow while doing so. If you enjoy metaphors, think of bamboo as an object that symbolizes resilience well. Bamboo is a strong material which can bend without breaking (and it grows fast!).
What are the Benefits of Building Resilience?
The importance of resilience cannot be overstated. Especially in the workplace. What is it that makes resilience so valuable and what sets resilient employees apart from the rest of the pack?
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First and foremost, resilient employees are more likely to report better physical and psychological health as it allows individuals to cope with stress and adversity.2 Individuals who are more resilient are less likely to experience mental health problems such as depression and burnouts. Additionally, resilient individuals might have better physical health outcomes, as they are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors such as regular exercise and good nutrition.
Second, resilient employees are also more likely to have a higher job satisfaction and healthy work-life balance.3,4 A healthy work-life balance can help prevent work-related stress bleeding into personal lives. In addition, because resilient employees are more likely to find meaning and purpose in their work, motivation and job satisfaction can increase. These factors combined make resilient employees better in handling the pressures of their jobs and in managing the challenges that inevitably arise in any work environment.
Besides having a significant impact on individual well-being, various studies suggest that resilience contributes to the success of an organization as well. Investing in resilience-building programs can enable organizations to establish a more committed, productive, and engaged workforce, while simultaneously improving their financial performance.5,6 Therefore, promoting resilience in the workplace is a vital strategy for organizations to achieve optimal employee well-being, but also for increasing organizational success.
Behavioral Science behind Resilience
Cognitive biases can hold back resilience in several ways. By becoming aware of these biases, we can accurately respond to challenging situations, and therefore improve our resilience. Here are three ways that biases can impact resilience:
- Confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, or interpret, information that is consistent with existing beliefs. In the context of resilience, confirmation bias can limit a person’s ability to learn from their experiences, which is an important aspect of resilience. When people seek out information that only confirms their existing beliefs, they are less likely to consider alternative perspectives that could help them overcome challenges.
- Framing effect. The framing effect is a bias where our choices are influenced by how they are presented, or ‘framed’, rather than by the actual facts. In the context of resilience, the framing effect influences how individuals perceive a challenging situation. For example, setbacks can be viewed as evidence of your incompetence, but also as learning opportunities. The second way of framing is more positive and empowers people.
- Default effect. The default effect is our tendency to go with the status-quo, even when other options are better for us. The benefit of being aware of this bias is best showcased by professional athletes. Professional athletes consciously choose the ‘hard’ way by performing difficult workouts. Eventually this leads to better overall performance. This same goes for employees. Sometimes challenging yourself, and consciously not going with the status quo, can feel hard at first, but in the long run will lead to a better performance.
Strategies for Building Resilience in your Workforce
Building resilience in the workplace is an ongoing process that requires management commitment. Offering training and development opportunities can help employees acquire the skills and build the confidence they need to handle challenges and succeed in the workplace. However, we will provide you with some other innovative strategies which are not the first strategies you would think of, but in our opinion are great ways to increase employee resilience:
- Growth mindset. One of the most effective ways to promote resilience is by encouraging positive thinking and a growth mindset. This can help employees approach challenges with a sense of optimism and opportunity. We can achieve this by fostering a supportive culture and increasing employee responsibility. To learn more, read our article on Growth Mindset fundamentals.
- Strong social networks. Strong social networks are a key factor in promoting resilience. A strong social network provides employees with a sense of belonging and support. The organization can facilitate by actively involving its employees and organizing social events such as, cultural & sport events or networking events. Facilitating social connections between people across the company is an approach that can help organizations in many other areas such as Innovation and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as well.
- Workplace flexibility. Promoting workplace flexibility can help employees better manage their work-life balance, which in turn increases their resilience. Interventions that allow better harmony in work-life balance include: flexible working hours, hybrid working possibilities, and flexible vacation days.
Since 2020, companies seem to spend more attention on building resilience but there are very few who have developed a coherent resilience-building policy that becomes a core asset. One company that has famously applied these and other principles into their policy is Patagonia. The famous outdoor apparel company is known for its commitment to sustainability and work-life balance. Patagonia encourages its employees to prioritize their personal lives and hobbies outside of work, offering flexible schedules and unlimited vacation time. The company also provides resources and support for mental health and stress management.
Recently the founder of the company Yvon Chouinard, even donated 98% of his company to a non-profit organization fighting climate change and defending nature.7 In a statement he made, he said: “Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits. But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it.” The same goes for employees. Their resources are not infinite, and sometimes, in case of for example a burnout, we have exceeded these limits. However, by being resilient, just as the Earth is, we can prevent burnouts and save ourselves from living an unhappy and unfulfilling life.
What have we learned and how can start building resilience?
In conclusion, resilience is a critical skill for both employees and organizations to thrive in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing work environment. Resilient employees are usually more productive, engaged, and satisfied with their jobs, while resilient organizations tend to be more profitable and better equipped to handle challenges and uncertainty. Encouraging positive thinking, building strong social networks, promoting workplace flexibility, and offering training and development opportunities are practical steps organizations can take to promote resilience among their employees.
Given how we spend around one third of our time at work, organizations can play a big role in inspiring people to develop resilience by facilitating what people need. Resilience is and will remain one of the most important skills in the rapidly changing 21st century.
Brown, R., Wey, H., & Foland, K. (2018). The Relationship Among Change Fatigue, Resilience, and Job Satisfaction of Hospital Staff Nurses. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 50(3), 306–313.
Luthans, F., Avolio, B. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Li, W. (2005). The Psychological Capital of Chinese Workers: Exploring the Relationship with Performance. Management and Organization Review, 1(02), 249–271.
Luthans, F., Vogelgesang, G. R., & Lester, P. B. (2006). Developing the Psychological Capital of Resiliency. Human Resource Development Review, 5(1), 25–44.
Parsons, S., Kruijt, A.-W., & Fox, E. (2016). A Cognitive Model of Psychological Resilience. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 7(3), jep.053415.
Semeijn, J. H., Caniëls, M. C. J., & Kooistra, D. (2019). Cross-lagged effects of resilience and indicators of sustainable employability; a study among Dutch police officers. Policing: An International Journal.
Yu, J., & Chae, S. (2020). The mediating effect of resilience on the relationship between the academic burnout and psychological well-being of medical students. Korean Journal of Medical Education, 32(1), 13–21.
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